Refugee Families: The Dangers of Family Separation

by Abdulaziz Abdulaziz

Family is a fundamental unit of society and a natural group among humankind. Belonging to a family is therefore an inevitable emotional need, but what happens when families are forced to separate due to insufferable living conditions, no access to education or job opportunities, and most concerningly governmental abuse or involuntary military service? Refugee families are all too often forced to separate and are suffering from the detrimental consequences. These distressing effects hurt all family members but most severely children.

Refugees at risk in their countries are forced to flee to safe places. However, due to the limited number of countries that grant asylum, prolonged asylum-seeking procedures, and the excessive hardships for children, women and elderly people, families often have to choose the “strongest member” (usually the father or the eldest son) to travel to a safe country. Regrettably, host countries often neglect asylum-seekers unless they see them perishing at their sea or land borders as witnessed in the European Refugee Crisis.

Upon escaping, the man, deluded by the “promising life” he had expected, thinks he will ensure a great environment for himself and his family. But he will soon realise the hardships to come, and the strict restrictions on family reunification. All these hardships will affect his mental and psychological well-being. Studies have demonstrated that people who are preoccupied by concerns for their families, from which they were forced to separate, show less resilience and harmony with the host society. This obstacle unsurprisingly renders those refugees unable to fully re-build their futures and enjoy their rights, increasing the social costs in the short and long term.

Concurrently, the left-behind vulnerable families, usually consisting of women, children and elderly people, run into all forms of suffering. Unlike their partners they cannot travel via smugglers without the risk of human trafficking and many other forms of abuse. Therefore, they are forced to wait for years in the process of reunification with their families. This period carries many harmful effects and difficulties of accessing the most basic needs, and the emotional effects on children which are severely traumatic and long-standing. When separated from their parents, children show poor learning and cognitive skills. In addition, children suffer from poor social and emotional behaviour due to the lack of intellectual and emotional motivation, as well as introversion because of the absence of their fathers. Moreover, many cases of child and teenager labour in the case of fathers’ absence have been reported. These burdens in turn lie on the mothers’ shoulders, which can make her severely distressed and overtaxed.

This narrative depicts countless reported refugee stories from all over the world. The asylum-granting countries should give serious consideration to the length and facilitation of family reunification procedures. It is counterproductive to give an individual asylum and neglect the urgent needs of them and their family.

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